FlingGolf in Oregon

I was doing updates on the posts for the various golf courses in Oregon when I came across a reference to FlingGolf (yes, one word). Not knowing anything about it, I Googled the phrase and watched a video of a frustrated golfer meeting with a very happy person who had a FlingStick and used it to toss a golf ball down a golf  fairway. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HfNm6lJrOEQ

I was intrigued, not for me to abandon what I have tried to do for 50 years, but as a way to increase business on a golf course. So, I did some research.

Years ago, Alex Van Alen and his brothers and friends played golf with lacrosse sticks at his family farm in Pennsylvania. (Does this remind you of the pioneer golfers in Gearhart over 130 years ago?) But Mr. Van Alen wanted to increase the ball flight using a lacrosse motion. Finding a jai alia basket on the web, he came up with the FlingStick and then formed the company New Swarm Sports LLC to manufacture the FlingStick and promote the sport of FlingGolf. www.flinggolf.com

The FlingStick

The FlingStick is made up of a grip and shaft (both like a golf club) and a head composed of a channel and a striker pad. It’s about the length of my 3 wood, and the whole thing weighs less than a pound. You place a golf ball in the channel, take the stick over your shoulder and bring it forward quickly in an arching motion (like jai alai or lacrosse), and (most importantly) follow through. The ball releases from the channel and heads down the fairway. [This is the “standard stroke” – more on this later.] You can generate more power and distance by running while bringing the stick forward provided that the ball is released before you get to the tees or the “ball spot.” The advice on the FlingGolf web site about a stroke is: “Don’t overthink it. You should swing as hard as you can.”

The FlingStick and FlingGolf were made public in 2014, and FlingSticks were displayed at the PGA Merchandise Show in 2015. There has been a slow but progression of sales of FlingSticks and use of FlingSticks on golf courses, with a significant bump occurring in 2021 after Mr. Van Alen and his business partner John Pruellage made a pitch about FlingGolf on the TV show “Shark Tank.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lml3ykKhJko&t=33s

New Swarm states that FlingGolf has been played at over 1,600 courses in 31 different counties. However, there is no tracking of how many people have played the sport or how many rounds there have been. New Swarm, a private company, has not published year-over-year sales records. In a 2018 interview, Mr. Van Alen stated that the majority of FlingGolf was being played on the east coast, following areas that have enthusiasm for lacrosse.

Recently, efforts to promote the sport have focused on FlingGolf tournaments through the World League FlingGolf. It had its first championship in 2021, and has a 5-stop nationwide tour scheduled for 2023. At least a portion of the tour will be televised on one of the ESPN networks.

There are official rules. Unlike the R&A and USGA Rules of Golf, which go to over 200 pages (OK, with illustrations), there are only five pages of FlingGolf rules. See https://flinggolf.com/pages/rules  The rules evidence the present simplicity of the sport. On the tee, you may take as many steps as you want (to generate additional power) before “hurling the ball” as long as the ball is launched before the tee marker. On the fairway (or in a hazard), there is a box you play from: formed by where the ball lies (this is the “ball spot”), two FlingSticks to either side of the ball spot, and five steps back from the ball spot (in a direction away from the hole). The shot is essentially the same: you pick up the ball (you are always allowed to clean the ball), put it in the channel of the FlingStick, and launch the ball before the ball spot. The main difference from the tee shot is that you can only take five steps back from the ball spot.

If you are in a bunker, hazard, or OB, you take one penalty stroke and go to the point of entry (or, if in a trap, directly back from the hole), then form the box you play generally from and make a stroke. But you can also play from the trap (without moving the ball first) or from a hazard (where you can pick up the ball before hurling it) without penalty. So you can go on into the water and pick up and play the ball (without penalty).

You use the FlingStick to putt. You place a “putting slug” in the channel (to give the very light club some weight) and then putt in the normal fashion. Or you can putt by hitting the edge of the front of the channel either swinging between your legs or in a normal putting stroke.

I referenced the “present simplicity of the game” and quoted “standard stroke” before because the game is at its nascent stages. The methods of how to move the ball forward with a FlingStick are still being developed. Flop shots and bump and runs are shown on the FlingGolf website. But I understand that some folks are flinging sideways or backwards (facing away from the hole). I am sure as more folks try using a FlingStick for longer periods, all sorts of new motions to propel a golf ball will be discovered.

So how much is FlingGolf played in Oregon? Your own experience is probably an indication. Although the FlingGolf website shows that FlingGolf has been played at least once on the vast majority of Oregon courses (referred to as “Liberated” courses), I had never seen a FlingStick before I went searching for one. The FlingGolf website identifies five courses where you could rent a FlingStick: Chinook Winds, Cross Creek, Creekside, Santiam, and Buffalo Peak. But conversations with the pro shops at those courses revealed a decided lack of course involvement or promotion of FlingGolf. Chinook Winds does have FlingSticks, but they have never rented them (and in two and one-half years, the pro shop has only seen one pair of FlingGolfers, who brought their own sticks). Neither Cross Creek or Creekside know if they have any sticks and the pro shops have never seen any FlingGolf players.

Buffalo Peak does have FlingSticks to rent, has rented them, and has a regular (small and not increasing) customer base of local college students who play FlingGolf. (Curious that promoting to local colleges may be the way to go, I checked with similarly situated courses near colleges or universities – Trysting Tree, Emerald Valley, and Laurelwood – and none of them have seen FlingGolf players or have FlingSticks to rent.)

Santiam has a few FlingSticks to rent. They were big on the potential of the sport initially, but did not see much response. Still, Jake Dalke in the pro shop became fairly proficient with the FlingStick and will take the time to demonstrate how to hurl the ball.

So one sunny early Spring day, I went to Santiam to try out FlingGolf.

The FlingStick is surprisingly light, but not as flexible as I thought. (I am sure someone is figuring out how to make a stick with  very flexible alloy so you could really launch a ball,) After watching Jake take a few hurls on the range, I tried it, and quickly was able to hurl the ball 100 to 125 yards. And almost all the shots went straight. I emptied a small bucket, finding the advice on the website and from Jake to be correct: don’t think about your form except to follow through and aim about 50 yards above your target.  I was surprised that the ball released from the channel of the FlingStick without having to do anything other than complete the follow-through.

I tried a few lob shots around the practice green (that was pretty shaky) and a few putts with the weight slug (two golf balls in a pouch; that was even more shaky). The pro shop wanted to make sure I did not play with regular golfers because it thought I might slow the group down. So I went to the first tee by myself and “teed off” with the FlingStick from the forward tees.

Here is what I found, some of it very surprising:

  • You only have one very light club, which makes for a very nice and easy walk.
  • Rough is not an issue. You lift the ball out of the rough, load the ball in the channel, and take a shot.
  • You are allowed to clean the ball on every shot (a big deal in the Spring in Oregon), just make sure you bring a towel.
  • Be mindful of how slippery the ground is – in an effort to create force, you may do the splits after you release the ball if the ground is wet.
  • Approach shots are tricky and probably take time to master. After trying a few underhand shots, I stuck with a bump and run, using an overhand abbreviated arc, and aiming short of the green (the motion still caused a lot of ball speed).
  • FlingGolf would be good in the cold as your wrists and forearms would not hurt after a missed shot.
  • Some golf balls are too big for the channel. Make sure the ball is able to move freely in the channel before taking a shot (most of the balls I use I have found – so some may be deformed).
  • Distance is a bigger issue than trajectory. Almost all my shots went straight.
  • Putting is tricky. For me, the FlingStick was too long (again, about a 3 wood) and too light (even with the putting slug) to putt with. It felt like I was putting with a headcover on.
  • Even though the walk on the course was easy, I found that flinging the ball took more overall physical effort than a normal golf shot (I am not saying that’s bad). After nine holes, my right forearm and right hip felt more strain (but not that much more) than I normally feel (I am right handed).

(For the record, I triple-bogied or more most holes, but had two bogies, which I thought was pretty good for the first time.)

I was told by two pros that one of the reasons why they thought FlingGolf would not catch on was because of the intimidation factor (big course with big hitting regular golf players who would look down at a FlingGolfer). After playing nine holes, I disagree. I quickly caught up to the foursome of traditional golfers in front of me (it’s an easy walk; there is not much of a practice swing; and the shots, although short, go straight). I was then joined by a threesome of traditional golfers behind me: two male bogey golfers and a female bogey golfer. I explained to them what I was doing, that it was my first time trying it, and that I was playing from the forward tees. They were intrigued, I parked my ego, and the four of us had a great time (easily keeping up with the group in front of us)!

Santiam Golf Club

And I think that’s where the success of FlingGolf might lie: a way for non-golfers to have easy access to a sport that is played on a golf course with friends or parents.  FlingGolf is extremely accessible. If you can’t find a FlingStick to rent, a FlingStick costs less than a couple of knock-off clubs (New Swarm has basic new FlingSticks for $124 and kids FlingSticks for $89). It is a very simple game to learn, takes only a few hurls to get decent yardage, and you go to your normal golf course.  Unlike foot or disc golf, you play the normal golf holes. Golfers and non-golfers can play a golf course, be challenged, and have a great time.

But I won’t be converting. I like the old game that I have played for so many years. But if I had a friend who didn’t play golf that I wanted to spend some time with, I would suggest he/she try FlingGolf and that we walk together. Because that is one of the reasons why I play: not to score well or hit a great shot (although those are nice), but to be outside in attractive places with people I enjoy. And in the one round that I had with the FlingStick, I discovered that golfers and flinggolfers can have a great time on the course together.

Thanks to the staff at Santiam Golf Club for taking the time to help me try FlingGolf.

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